Writer: Alan McHugh
Director: Ian Talbot
There are enough Dicks for everyone this Christmas with Dick jokes galore at Above The Stag Theatre, and at TuckShop’s Sunday takeover of the Phoenix Theatre. Shane Richie’s Dick isn’t the most spectacular of the season but his performance at the New Wimbledon Theatre just about keeps everyone happy.
In fact, so much is invested in Richie’s performance as the titular hero that all of the other characters are left with little to do. Scandalously, the ensemble upstages the pantomime dame in the costume department and Dick’s cat, while nimble on her paws, never says a word. Despite the pyrotechnics and the busy lights, this Dick Whittington raises a giggle but it rarely comes to life.
Bringing his EastEnders’ persona to stage, Richie starts the performance by scouting for pretty women in the audience. It’s an odd move; it seems dated and not in the spirit of inclusiveness of other pantos like the Hackney Empire’s Jack and the Beanstalk which serves its neighbourhood well. There, Clive Rowe’s Dame ensures that everyone feels welcome; at Wimbledon, Richie’s initial laddish manner may make some feel excluded. Fortunately, his character mellows quickly and the children begin to love him, and his mock-exasperated tones.
As the Dame, Iain Stuart Robertson hardly gets a look in, and her frocks disappoint and never get applause of their own. Better is Peter Piper as Captain Cockles who acts as Richie’s comedy partner in many of the traditional skits. In all the mayhem he’s a confident performer with great comic timing. Hiba Elchikhe is fine as Dick’s love interest but even under the laws of pantoland her character is underdeveloped which means that her journey from the daughter of a sweetshop owner to the hero who saves the day doesn’t really have the excitement it should.
As The Spirit of Bow Bells, Shona White ensures that her voice is audible above the five-man orchestra that plays enthusiastically above a backing-track complete with backing vocals. Rachel Izen as Queen Rat struggles to be heard at times, but is suitably villainous when she cracks her tail like a whip. Again, their roles are fairly minor compared to that of Richie’s but at least White gets to have some fun in the If I Were Not In Pantomime skit that lights up the second half.
Working the hardest of the lot are the eight performers who make up the ensemble and who appear in almost every scene whether dancing as maidens and pages in the city of London or dressed as octopuses and lobsters in the bizarre underwater scene. Presumably, they are also the rats that scurry around at the behest of their leader.
Wimbledon usually takes the lead when it comes to pantos in South London, but this impersonal Dick doesn’t quite hit the target. It ticks the right boxes, but it can’t hide the fact that this Dick – in keeping with the panto theme – is a little flaccid.
Runs until 2 January 2022